Philipp Grubauer: Comparing First 50 Games to Other Capitals Goalies

Posted January 3, 2017

Since the lockout, the Washington Capitals have been known mostly for their offensive play. With players like Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom in town, it is easy to see why.

No matter how much offense you have, if you don’t have good goaltending, you aren’t going anywhere. Through good drafting, the Capitals have been able to line up a good stretch of starting goaltenders.

Braden Holtby is going to get the majority of the headlines, rising to become one of the best goalies in the entire NHL, but there have been others recently in front of him. Blocked by Holtby, Philipp Grubauer has established himself as an excellent backup, and a player to watch should he ever get the opportunity to be a starter on his own team.

The German-born Grubauer took over the backup duties from Justin Peters last year and entered this season as the full-time relief for Holtby. His game Saturday afternoon against the New Jersey Devils was his 50th of his career, posting great numbers early on.

A look back at some of the recent players to call the Capitals’ net their home, and how they compare to each other in their first 50 games played.

Semyon Varlamov

The Russian-born netminder was the ‘first’ of the new wave of goalies the Capitals have seen come through D.C. The 23rd overall pick in the 2006 draft, Varlamov was the third goalie selected behind Jonathan Bernier and Riku Helenius.

Making his debut in December of 2008, Varlamov’s stay with the Capitals was brief, as they were able to flip him for another first round pick after playing just 59 games overall with the team.

He spent his first full season in the NHL as Jose Theodore’s and never played in more than 27 games in a year while with the Capitals. He did play in 13 games during the 2008-2009 playoffs when Washington was eliminated by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

Michal Neuvirth

The Capitals used their top two picks in the 2006 draft on goaltenders, the first being Varlamov and the second being Neuvirth, who was taken 11 picks later. He was the fifth goalie selected overall in that draft.

Neuvirth made his NHL debut two months after Varlamov did, and while they were both in town they battled each other to for the right to be the team’s starter. During the 2010-2011 season, Neuvirth outplayed Varlamov 48 games to 27.

After Varlamov was traded, it briefly opened a door for Neuvirth to be the starter, but he too was dealt, to the Buffalo Sabres. Overall the Czech Republic native Neuvirth played in 134 games in a Capitals jersey.

Braden Holtby

The team’s current and franchise goaltender that the organization decided on over Varlamov and Neuvirth, and for just cause. Holtby’s efforts from a year ago were recognized when he won the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goalie.

A fourth-round pick in 2008, Holtby was the tenth goalie selected in his draft class but has risen to become one of the elite players at his position.

Holtby debuted for the team in November of 2010 and has played in 272 games in Washington now.

Philipp Grubauer

A fourth-round pick in 2010, Grubauer was the ninth goalie taken overall. Outside of the Avalanche’s Calvin Pickard, the rest of the goalies drafted in front of Grubauer have combined to play nine total games in the NHL.

He played in bits and pieces at the NHL level his first three professional seasons, getting into 20 games over a three-year span between 2012-2015, before latching on as the backup later on.

First 50 Games

Player W-L GAA SV% GSAA 5v5 SV%
Braden Holtby 31-15-4 2.44 .914 10.08 .934
Michal Neuvirth 27-12-4 2.67 .910 1.1 .921
Semyon Varlamov 27-10-8 2.41 .916 13.56 .934
Philipp Grubauer 21-16-7 2.28 .923 6.73 .927

Grubauer has posted better overall numbers, having a higher base GAA and SV% while Holtby and Varlamov excelled at the 5v5 statistics. That can be looked at as somewhat of a surprise, as he has the most losses out of anyone in the group.

Despite a good start to the season where Grubauer has only lost twice in eight contest, last year wasn’t as kind to him, losing ten times in his 22 appearances (made 16 starts).

Neuvirth, while he posted the weakest numbers out of the whole group, lost the least amount of times with 16 overall. Playing during the peak offensive Capitals’ teams helped cover the fact that Neuvirth was barely better than your average goaltender.

Goals-Saved-Above-Average measures how many goals a goalie stops above (or below) the league average for save percentage. It is a good way to set a bar, league-wise, and then measure each individual goaltender to see how they stack up to each other. The numbers can get a little skewed if a goalie is more active than others, but since these are from their first 50 games played, it is across an even playing surface.

It can also be a little unfair judging the numbers from different years, as the average save percentage is going to vary, but you still get the right idea.

Varlamov led the way with a 13.56 GSAA, with Holtby right behind. Both are starting NHL goaltenders so it shouldn’t really come as a surprise.

What maybe could be seen as a shocker is the fact that Varlamov posted better numbers across the board than Neuvirth but yet the time they spent together on the roster the latter got the majority of the starts during the regular season. Varlamov got the nod during the postseason, but Neuvirth played in nearly 50 games (a lot of which weren’t counted here thanks to being after the sample size) during the season.

What It Means

Holtby isn’t going anywhere, he has proven to be the Capitals’ present and their future. Grubauer has done a good job in the limited action he has seen this year, and it is interesting to see where he stands as far as some of the goalies the Capitals have had in recent years.

It can also allude to the expansion draft, and if Grubauer may be an option for the Vegas team, who is run by former Caps GM George McPhee. Both Holtby and Varlamov posted numbers to suggest that they were capable of being NHL starters.

Grubauer’s numbers aren’t quite as strong when it comes to even strength play and GSAA and almost compares to a slightly better Neuvirth, who has bounced around as a backup since leaving Washington.

But even so, 50 games into his career, Grubauer is paving a nice little path in the league for him, just like others who have shared the crease with him and showing that it hasn’t just been the offense that has led to the Capitals continued success over the years.